Rossier School of Education
Science Teaching Methods
speculation, skepticism and truth are related to science and
scientific methods. Imagination is what you think, speculation
is guessing, skepticism is doubting and truth are facts of
is known fact, skepticism separates truth from speculation,
speculation makes theories based on facts and imagination
makes hypotheses of outcomes going beyond what is known.
imagination, speculation and truth are related to each other
because they make you think about science. They are also used
in forming and proving theory.
use imagination and speculation to reach the truth. You need
to be able to be skeptical to realize you are not always right.
are all used together in science. Speculation is needed because
without questions there would be no answers. All answer specific
questions in science. Truth is the final analysis of your
conclusions. Imagination is your ideas of problems and skepticism
is always important because without non-believers, all would
increases the quantity of hypotheses to test and therefore
your chance of being right. Skepticism from others heightens
your incentive to prove your idea and eliminates infeasible
ideas whey from yourself. Speculation helps you make educated
guesses. Truth is what "most people know"--accepted
reality, which we can never be certain of.
above are group answers by an ethnically and culturally diverse
of physics students to the question: How are truth, imagination,
speculation, skepticism and truth related to science. The question
preceded a series of activities on laws and theories but followed
the viewing and discussion of the introductory film in Carl Saganís
Cosmos series. The answers were written for a grade and were
perhaps more the answer of one person in the 4-member groups than
a consensus. But they do illustrate what I consider of importance
in defining scientific literacy. Science is both a process and a
product (DeBoer), but the lasting part of science is the process,
for the product may change because of the nature of the process.
(Simpson and Anderson, 22).
a person to be scientifically literate, he and she should understand
the nature of scientific knowledge, that it is human, tentative,
historic, replicable, public, based on observation, interconnected
(Champagne, 22-23) and involves both imagination and skepticism,
an awareness of the nature of truth, and speculation. Science proceeds
by asking questions, forming tentative answer or explanations, and
testing these explanations. Explanations that "fail" the
tests are rejected and those that "pass" are further tested.
The explanations must be testable and falsifiable but they may be
imaginative and speculative. And the "true" explanation
may actually be "what works" under current conditions
rather than some absolute concept.
because science is a product, or body of knowledge, as well as a
process, the scientifically literate person should be aware of the
current state of the product as well as how the product was produced.
Several lists of what a person should know to be considered scientifically
literate are available (Champagne, Hazen and Trefil in Pool and
in Culotta, Showalter), but they tend to reflect the scientific
background of the list-makers. Speaking from the perspective of
a high school science teacher, trained in biology, but currently
teaching biology, chemistry, and physics, I would emphasize interconnections
in my list of content products a scientifically literate person
should know. Atoms and how they act and react and form both inanimate
and animate matter would be on the list as would the distinction
between life and non-life, the evolution of the universe and of
living creatures, the interdependence of living creatures with living
and non-living aspects of their environment (photosynthesis would
be included here), the chemical nature and universality of the genetic
code and its presence in individual replicable units (viruses and
cells) on the earth, the interrelation of time-space-matter-energy
and the awesome power of nuclear energy, and the perception that
objects are either in motion or at rest relative to other objects.
I should add that some understanding of the chemistry of carbon
is essential for science literacy, since life as we know it is carbon-based,
our current energy supplies are carbon-based, environmental pollutants
are for the most part carbon-based, and many disease agents and
disease treatments are carbon-based.
scientifically literate person should be able to apply scientific
processes or ways of thinking and knowing to evaluate the complexities
of modern life, to separate false claims from falsifiable explanations,
to judge the risks and benefits of technological advances, to assess
problems created by unethical or inappropriate application of scientific
knowledge, to know how to question the "experts" or to
know how to ask questions and how to read and evaluate newspaper
and popular science writing (Flaste). In addition, a scientifically
literate person should be able to find information about science
topics. Finally, a scientifically literate person is curious (Wittliln,
331) or at least able to be curious and wonder about how and why
the natural world works the ways it does. Everyone cannot be curious,
or speculative, or imaginative, or skeptical all the time, but everyone
should have the capability. Science education should indulge the
human propensity to be curious and teach the tools to indulge that
curiosity. People actually do science all the time, usually without
thinking, when they work on their cars to improve the timing, when
they vary ingredients in a recipe to see how the flavor or texture
changes, when they try different watering cycles to improve the
growth of their lawn, when they try different swings for hitting
a golf ball. The goal of scientific literacy would then be to enable
these same people to do science when evaluating bigger questions
or, more importantly, false claims or pseudoscientific beliefs.
has taught me that my classes are not the only nor the last science
classes my students will ever take. Once I realized this, I stopped
cramming them full of scientific jargon and stepped back and let
them indulge their curiosity, albeit with guidance. A certain amount
of terminology is necessary when teaching product as in teaching
process. But I would judge that my physics students are scientifically
literate when they can read and explain a newspaper or magazine
article related to physics, can discuss with examples changing views
on a topic relative to physics, and can gather and organize data
about a specific physics phenomenon, find patterns in their data
, speculate about the explanations for the patterns, devise a way
to test their explanations and determine whether or not their explanations
are valid. The explanations may be fanciful but they must be testable.
Most of my students find the work hard, challenging and frustrating
but they often, especially near the end of the year, comment that
the "time goes so fast in this class," "why canít
we spend all day in physics," "this is actually fun,"
and "I didnít realize I had learned so much." When I hear
comments like these, and when I see them discussing discrepant values
in some lab activity or defending their explanations with enthusiasm,
I know that I have helped them become literate at least in the process
side of scientific literacy.
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